Companies can “hire” a virtual human in China for about $14,000 a year

Virtual singer Luo Tianyi performs with world famous pianist Lang Lang in 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China. Released in 2012, Luo Tiani has nearly 3 million fans and even performed at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing this year.

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BEIJING – From customer service to the entertainment industry, businesses in China are paying big for virtual employees.

Technology company Baidu said the number of virtual human projects it has worked on for clients has doubled since last year, with prices ranging from $2,800 to $14,300 a year.

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Virtual Humans is a combination of animation, voice technology, and machine learning that creates digitized humans that can sing and even communicate live. While these digital entities have relegated to the fringes of the US internet, they are increasingly appearing in China’s cyberspace.

Some buyers of virtual humans include financial services companies, local tourism boards and state media, said Li Shiyan, who heads Baidu’s virtual humans and robotics business.

As technology improves, costs are down about 80% from last year, he said. It costs about 100,000 yuan ($14,300) a year for a 3D virtual human, and 20,000 yuan for a 2D one.

Lee expects the virtual human industry as a whole to continue growing at 50% annually through 2025.

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From a business perspective, a lot of attention is being paid to how virtual people can create content.

Brands in China are looking for alternative spokespeople after many celebrities have recently faced negative press related to tax evasion or personal scandals, said Sirius Wang, Kantar’s Greater China market head and chief product officer.

Dancers perform with virtual digital humans at the Future Life Festival 2022 in Hangzhou, China, November 4, 2022.

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According to a survey released this fall by Kantar, at least 36% of consumers have watched a virtual influencer or digital star speak in the past year. Twenty-one percent have watched a virtual person host an event or broadcast the news, the report said.

Looking ahead to next year, 45% of advertisers said they might sponsor a virtual influencer performance or invite a virtual person to join a brand event, according to a Kantar report.

The growing development of virtual people

Many of China’s major tech companies are already developing products in the virtual human industry.

A video and game streaming app Bilibili was one of the earliest to embrace the basic idea of ​​virtual humans.

The company acquired the team of virtual singer Luo Tianyi, whose image and voice were completely created by tech. This year, the developers focused on improving the texture of the virtual singer’s voice using an artificial intelligence algorithm, Bilibili reports.

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Released in 2012, Luo Tiani has nearly 3 million fans and even performed at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing this year.

Bilibili also hosts many so-called virtual anchors, which are live avatars of people who use special technologies to reach their audience. The company said that 230,000 virtual hosts have started broadcasting on its platform since 2019, and virtual hosts’ broadcast time has increased by nearly 200% this year compared to last year.

Tencent said in its latest earnings call that Tencent Cloud AI Digital Humans provides chatbots to industries such as financial services and tourism for automated customer support. The company’s Next Studios also developed a virtual singer and a virtual sign language interpreter.

Many smaller companies are also getting involved in the industry.

Startup Well-Link Technologies, whose cloud technology support brought Chinese video game developer miHoYo to gaming success, announced this year that it has developed another virtual human model in a joint venture with Haixi Media.


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